walkhighlands

Ben Nevis and Carn Mor Dearg

Route: Ben Nevis by the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

Munros: Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg

Date walked: 29/06/2014

Time taken: 11 hours

I haven't written a walk report for a long time now. In fact I think the last time I did write one I had been up 20 or so Munros and I'm now at 68. I'm writing this as much for me so the words help me relive what was probably my favourite day in the mountains so far.

My fiance's brother and girlfriend had booked to stay in a yurt for a week at Torlundy (we stayed in the Premier Inn becaus I like 3G and electricity) and wanted to climb Ben Nevis. My fiance and I had already been up previously and I wanted to go via the arete. They were pretty fit cyclists (if having only climbed three or four Munros) and the weather was perfect (it really was. Not too hot, sunny, no breeze). I mean look...

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I decided we should start with the tourist route and leave the decision about whether to go via CMD until the lochan (I wanted to make sure everyone was feeling fit). It was very different to when I first went this way. I wasn't even ticking the Munros then, just training for Kilimanjaro, and it was grey and rained all the way up and was more like doing the world's worst conga because it was uphill and someone had gotten carried away with the smoke machine. Today the views down Glen Nevis were spectacular

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A few people were asking whether they were near the top. I so wanted to tell them it was five minutes but I couldn't. I think the tourist track gets a bad press. Everyone has their own challenges and level of achievements and for some this will be the only hill they will go up and they will be happy and proud of it. For others, like me, it will be the start of a love affair with being outside in the hills whatever the weather and although I want the hills to myself I am also pretty evangelical about how amazing they are and the sense of wonderment they bring. So I'm happy that there are some places where tourists can get this (and if they are in jeans and trainers well it is their discomfort when it rains and many of us have made errors of judgement on hills).

And speaking of wrong reasons for making decisions at the half-way lochan we decided to go via CMD because my fiance's, brother's girlfriend thought the path looked easier when I suggested it. It did for about 2 miles (I had pointed out it would get much harder because despite my temptation to tell people they are five minutes from the top I am not evil).

I think we all appreciated the quietness of the new path and the walk around the north face does have a cathedral like silence. It shades you from all outside noise and it is hard to keep your head down because of your eyes are drawn to wander up every crack and gully of the cliffs that really never seem to end.

But what really never seems to end is the trek up the side of CMD, 1hr and 20 minutes for 600m or so up this.

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It was a monkey crawl up and just slightly vertiginous, but it is easy not to look down with these views.

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I was pleased to reach the top and see the top of CMD, which looks so small, but graceful, coquettishly turning from and flirting with the bulky masculinity of the Ben yet arcing the long slender arm secretively round to caress it.

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At this point that long slender arm was very much on my mind. For some of the group the climb up CMD had been horrendous, others (the masochist of the team) thought it the best bit of the day and enjoyed having to use hands. I have been across Striding Edge, but this was much longer and I confess to being nervous. I was more nervous because I was sort of leading these people and I wasn't sure how the rest would cope.

Turns out my fiance would cope with sharp intakes of breath and Disney songs as a distraction (I advised her 'I believe I can fly' was not the correct song choice at this point). The arete is narrow but I didn't find it scary though others did and everyone has their own challenges. The rocks are big and grippy; I could have gone back and forth across it time and time again (and nearly did when I though I left my phone at the mid point). Should mention the man and his daughter, who looked about nine, and seemed to skip along the crest like a mountain goat (although really she put them to shame). Really impressive effort on her part.

The views along the arete elicit adrenaline and excitement

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It is narrow, but any fear can be overcome. We were passed by a large party going the opposite way at about the narrowest point of the ridge, which was most unfortunate for my fiance who did not want to admire the views (she says she did most of it with her eyes closed, but as she is still here I suspect this is an exaggeration). The really narrow bit is just before the end where there is a sheer drop on both sides for about four or five paces. All four of us had our own unique methods for this bit, but then a quick scramble up some blocks and you are at the shoulder of Ben Nevis and I as much as I had enjoyed it I was really proud of the people I was with who I know had found bits of it scary.

Now they could enjoy the views and my favourite picture of the day is the one of the Ring of Steal from above.

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Ring of Steal


The final route up Ben Nevis was steep again and tiring by now. The boulders all seemed to conspire to move and test our weary ankles. If there was a path I couldn't find one, except for the odd line of yellow smaller stones. Rarely have I been so pleased to see the top of a hill, again more for my friends than for myself because each time I looked back they were falling further behind and I could see their weariness in their faces. However, the top comes fast this way and was reached with a happy burst of energy.

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The views from here weren't bad either

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And we commenced the descent looking into the evening sun

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I like this about long days in the hills, the way the light changes. You start with the sun bright and harsh and end with the hazy low sun casting long shadows. At several points during this walk I wondered if I had made a mistake choosing this route, but as we got further down the talk was about the achievement and how this was one of the best things we had ever done. How the route we chose was much better than the route we were going down. People raced past us and we were happy we could do nothing but stroll. Alas, we were speaking in joyous tones far too soon: By halfway the talk stopped, the feet hurt, every step carried with it the shudder and jolt of pneumatic drill and none of us were thinking this was the best thing we had done, rather we were wondering what hellish sin we had committed such that a demon would keep adding an extra switchback to the track. When the car was eventually reached it was three hours since the top and eleven since the start. The consensus, happily, remained that this had been a great adventure.

I have had some brilliant days in the hills, I would gladly live on Slioch and trot about with the feral goats, and Beinn Dearg in Ullapool we saw golden eagles flying around so close we could almost touch them, but this as well as being the hardest day I have had in the hills (it really is a long day) carried with the same sense of achievement that I got when I first started climbing hills. It was a special day and I am even more happy that I took my fiance's brother and his girlfriend to see that side of the hill and they enjoyed it.

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matt0129081


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Place: Edinburgh

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